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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Computers can't get no respect!

Related Link » Consumers Get $23 Quadrillion Credit Card Bill Because of Visa Glitch
“A New Hampshire man was shocked to learn that when he purchased pack of cigarettes he also got charged $23,148,855,308,184,500, or more than $23 quadrillion — a number that rivals that of the national debt. [...] Visa spokeswoman Elvira Swanson said in a written statement, ‘The technical glitch has been corrected, and all erroneous postings have been removed’.”
 — The Associated Press contributed to this report.
In colloquial parlance, a "technical glitch" is a so-called "computer glitch" and is frequently so attributed. But, dear reader, I am here to tell you that it is not a computer glitch. It is human error.

To paraphrase Rodney Dangerfield, computers can't get no respect. I won't say never; one must never say never. But computers (the hardware itself) rarely experience a glitch. The problem is almost always caused by human error or human maliciousness (one must always modify "always" with "almost").

So, in the case of the Visa system that charged $23 Quadrillion (with a Q) for a pack of cigarettes, I'll bet dollars to donuts this hiccup was man-made. By the way, you might as well get used to these new dollar-denominated units: a $Trillion (with a T) is a thousand $Billion (with a B); and a $Quadrillion (with a Q) is a thousand $Trillion or, if you prefer, a million $Billion. Now that's not chump change. That's change you better get used to.

Post #846 Computers can't get no respect!

1 comment:

  1. I have been designing, programming, cajoling, and occasionally kicking computers since 1968 (an IBM 1620). And in all that time, I have never seen a computer make a mistake. Crash, yes. I have even let the smoke out of a few integrated circuits myself. But a mistake? No.

    However, it's possible that the fraud prevention software VISA deploys was simply anticipating the near-future cost of a pack of cigarettes. Which does seem to be headed toward the quadrillion mark, given the current duty cycles on the money presses.